What is life like in Raqqa today? In October 2017, the northern Syrian city was liberated from the rule of the so-called Islamic State, or IS.
In 2014, Raqqa became the informal capital of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate. Many hundreds of civilians died in the battle to liberate the city. Raqqa now lies in ruins.
Naim Square - whose name translates to Paradise Square - was once the vibrant heart of Raqqa. Islamic State quickly turned it into the "Square of Hell." "Members of IS would chop off people’s heads and stick them on spikes all around the square," says truck driver Khaled Sweila. He points to rows of seats in the nearby street. "Here they had large television monitors, so that children would watch punishments and executions. That was compulsory," says Sweila. Now an eerie calm hangs over Raqqa, which was once home to 260,000 people.
US-led airstrikes loosened IS's grip, but also levelled the city. Australian Jamie Williams joined the fight against IS, horrified by the acts of the notorious Australian ‘gangster jihadi’ Khaled Sharrouf. "I would have loved to have caught one of those guys," says Williams, who is now sweeping the city for mines.
"When IS came to Raqqa, they brought only chaos and destruction," says Wasna Ahmad El Mahammad, who had to shield her six children from her new IS neighbors. Now she and her brother are picking through the rubble of their former home and business, which were destroyed in a US-led airstrike. "I don’t believe that things will ever be like they were before, not even close. But I will live on and rebuild again," she says.
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